Balancing Light & Dark

Balancing Light & Dark

by Janice Van Cleve


At 11 minutes after the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of August, 1999, a total eclipse of the sun began to trace its shadow across Europe, Anatolia, and India. Thousands gathered in Cornwall, England, to witness the event while others spent thousands of dollars to fly in a Concorde jet in the path of the shadow. What did it all mean?

This was the last solar eclipse of the millennium. Some predicted that it heralded the fulfillment of biblical revelations, others said it marked the beginning of Armageddon — the last battle before the end of the world. Some looked for aliens from other planets to appear or for a shift in the earth’s magnetic fields that would cause catastrophic earthquakes or floods. For myself, it was an energetic day of creative writing which I attribute more to the extra coffee than to celestial events.

Yet an eclipse is an awesome occurrence. To think that an object far out in space could throw its shadow across our earth somehow shakes loose our narrow focus on the mundane and underscores our connection to a greater universe. The immensity of this phenomenon dwarfs our puny existence and forces a humbling awe. Those who fear what they cannot control are driven to spread their fear in dire prophecies and ludicrous interpretations. Still others, seeking escape from temporal reality, see in the eclipse a sign of alternative worlds where they might fare better.

There is another aspect of eclipses: they are beautiful to behold. In a world flush with beauty which unfolds daily in the sheer joy of its own existence, the solar eclipse is one more delightfully exquisite manifestation of pure joy. The eclipse does not have to be either mechanical science or holy creation or portent for the future. It just is, for its own sake, with no purpose other than to be. Like the yellow mountain lily or the fingerling salmon in the sea, like a graceful waltz or reading to a little child, the sun’s diamond ring around the moon is a delight to the open heart.

The eclipse can also provide a symbolic reference for a deeper truth. The moon, which brings light to the darkness, now brings darkness to the light. The moon reflects the sun’s light during the night and, during a solar eclipse, it is the moon that hides that light from us. It is a symbol for the principle of universal duality. Dark cannot exist without light and light cannot exist without dark. Light and dark are coequal twins, like life and death, love and fear, joy and sorrow.

Patriarchal religions attempt to break up universal duality. They fear darkness and shun it, seeking in its place eternal light. Pagans, however, can embrace both the light and the darkness. They can appreciate each one for its own sake and for the anticipation each creates for the other. Bliss is the happy balance of both, in perfect love and perfect trust.

The happy balance of light and dark is the theme of autumn equinox when day and night are of equal length. The expressive and expansive days of spring and summer give way necessarily to the introspective days of autumn and winter. It is no accident that this is the time of Libra, the scales of balance.

Now we gather that which is of lasting value and let go that which is no longer useful. Debts are settled, produce is harvested, and we look back at summer’s accomplishments with a sigh of both satisfaction and relief. Now we begin to draw inward and to take stock and give thanks for how far we have traveled since we made those promises at Imbolc and planted those seeds at spring equinox.

An eclipse gives us a quick vision of the interchangeability of light and dark. The equinox bears out the vision in the wheel of the year. We are the children of the light and we are equally the children of the dark.